Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella has spent the last couple of days making plenty of noise by flapping his jaw. In the eighth game of their postseason run, his team's bats finally arose from their slumber and made their own noise.
Spurred by their manager's bravado that promised a return trip home for Game Six, and by his rare pregame meeting, the Mariners went on a record-setting rampage Saturday during a 14-3 rout of the New York Yankees.
Game Four is tonight at 7:30 (Ch. 29) with Roger Clemens on the mound for the Yankees and Paul Abbott for Seattle.
Seattle still trails the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, two games to one. But the Mariners feel much more like the team that won 116 games during the regular season than the one that meekly managed just four runs and 10 hits in the first two games of this series.
Piniella's guarantee following Thursday night's loss in Safeco Field has been back-page headline fodder in tabloids here since the teams arrived from Seattle early Friday morning.
"I guess when you are a New Yorker, you can say those things," Piniella said with a laugh. "You know, this city has got that feistiness about it and that's good. But boy, when somebody else says it, it creates a commotion."
"He means it and he truly believes it," said second baseman Bret Boone, who snapped his nightmarish postseason slump with three hits and an ALCS record-tying five RBIs. "He doesn't just throw it out to try to fire us up. He truly believes that. He's been around all year and he's seen what we've done."
Piniella reaffirmed belief in his team three hours before the first pitch in the sanctity of its clubhouse. He said it was the first meeting he's called since Opening Day but wouldn't divulge the message. Neither would his players.
"It was short, quick, sweet and to the point," said Seattle infielder Mark McLemore.
Whatever was said had a big impact on Seattle's offense. The Mariners' 14 runs were the most in ALCS history, surpassing Boston's 13-1 win over the Yankees in Game Three of the '99 ALCS. They were also the most against the Yankees in their storied postseason history.
The Mariners scored at least once in each of their last five at-bats, including a seven-run sixth inning that tied another ALCS mark and blew open a 2-2 tie. Seattle exploded for 12 unanswered runs to wipe out a 2-0 New York lead.
A crowd of 56,517 packed Yankee Stadium hoping to see New York take total command with a third straight win. Mayor Rudolph Guiliani was in his customary front-row seat. Former President Bill Clinton and Governor George Pataki were in the private boxes.
The Mariners made sure all of them went home disappointed.
Things were going the Yankees' way in the early going. Bernie Williams torched starter Jamie Moyer for a two-out, two-run homer to deep left-center in the first to put New York up, 2-0. Meanwhile, Orlando Hernandez handcuffed the Mariners on one hit and struck out six through the first four innings.
But subtle change began in the third when Seattle left fielder Stan Javier robbed Alfonso Soriano of a home run that would have put the Yankees up, 3-0, leaping over the left-field fence to snare the ball.
Then came the Seattle fifth. With one out, Tom Lampkin's hard slide into second and a throw by Hernandez that was slightly wide gave David Bell enough time to cross first safely and prevent an inning-ending double play.
It turned into a huge play. Hernandez suddenly lost the plate, walking Ichiro Suzuki and McLemore to load the bases for Boone. The all-star second baseman worked the count to 2-1 before lofting a sinking liner to left. Chuck Knoblauch came in hard and made a headlong dive to grab the ball in the pocket of his glove.
But Knoblauch hit the ground hard and the ball popped out. Instead of an inning-ending catch with New York's lead intact, two runs scored and the game was tied, 2-2.
"We got a break," McLemore said.
Boone had been 4 for 30 with no RBIs in the postseason entering that at-bat. It started a string of three productive plate appearances. In addition to the two-run single, he crushed a titanic two-run homer to center in the sixth and added an RBI single in the seventh.
"Sometimes when you get that chinker, things open up and you feel a lot better about it," said Boone, who had 37 homers and 141 RBIs in the regular season. "Who knows? Maybe that was the beginning of something for me at the plate."
The Mariners took the lead for good in the sixth, 3-2, when John Olerud took Hernandez deep with a towering solo home run off the right field foul pole. Yankees reliever Mike Stanton made a key throwing error that allowed another run to score and yielded a three-run triple to McLemore that made the score 7-2 and broke the game open. Boone's home run capped the inning.
"I said the things I said because I have confidence in this baseball team and I believe in them," Piniella said. "You can say a lot of things, but you still have to get it done on the field. Tonight, our team went out and got it done."